Saturday, 2 September 2017

Short-sighted entertainment industry

So, Dark Matter was cancelled yesterday by SyFy, after three seasons. Not only was it a great little show, but you could tell how much everyone behind the scenes enjoyed it. I also watched the 'After Dark' discussion show, and you could see the joy on the cast when they got together.

Of course, that doesn't matter to what we out in the audience would probably describe as a 'faceless TV exec' - it's ratings and ad revenue, and a ruthless desire to cull anything that isn't working. The crazy thing is, that by all accounts, Dark Matter was delivering on the ratings - and even more so with DVR catch-up viewings.

What's worse, is that season three of Dark Matter ended on a cliffhanger. So that's it, goodbye, no wrap-up, no resolution. SyFy have just rebranded (with a hideous colour scheme, I might add), and their tagline is now "It's a fan thing". Clearly, that's a lie. That's one of the worst things you can do to your fanbase.

Someone at SyFy gave the okay for Dark Matter to have a cliffhanger ending. I think that that decision requires the network to accept a degree of responsibility towards their viewers: if you greenlight a cliffhanger, you're saying to your viewers (your life-blood, because without people watching your network, what are you?) - "Yes, we're doing a cliffhanger, and that means we're coming back, because we're not going to leave you hanging, we respect you too much to do that to you."

Of course there has to be some commercial interests in programming - it's a business after all. But what really grinds my gears is just how short-sighted networks seem to be.

Are we ever going to see something become the sort of phenomenon that gave us Star Trek? Not if those 'faceless TV execs' have anything to say about it. Anything that isn't a massive ratings hit straight away is earmarked for destruction. Nothing is ever given the opportunity to grow. Genre television has a tough enough time as it is - if networks keep alienating viewers in this way, then they will stay away from shows.

Three seasons is barely enough to get going. Star Trek: The Next Generation just about hit its stride in season three - imagine if that had been cancelled after Best of Both Worlds Part 1?

Already, a lot of people don't like even starting a new show - because they think "it's just going to get cancelled after one season anyway" - that, SyFy, is what you and the other networks are making your audience think. How is anything going to thrive or grow or last five to seven seasons if that's the way you make people think?

What's the solution? How about a different model for funding shows? Live ratings are a meaningless indicator. And honestly, don't get me started on 'retaining ratings from the previous show'! People are not stupid. Just because show X was on at 8pm has no bearing on who watches show Y at 9pm - guess what? Viewers are clever enough to turn the television on at the exact time they need if they choose to watch something.

The sad thing is, that Dark Matter had a lot more of its story to tell. Why isn't the show just the beginning? Why aren't networks looking at things like merchandise? Dark Matter easily could have been translated into action figures, toys, games, it's a sci-fi show for crying out loud! Why aren't networks looking at a show concept as an holistic entity - something that can be grown and expanded upon for the future?

At this rate we're never going to have new 'classic shows' - think forward twenty years. What are we going to be watching then? What will the classic shows be then?

The really sad thing is that genre television attracts some of the most passionate fans in the world. The sadness online at the moment over Dark Matter's cancellation is a testament to just how much the audience cares about the show, the characters, and the cast. You can't buy that kind of loyalty - it's earned. Dark Matter's earned that over the course of its three year run. I think that loyalty deserves something more than a shrugged shoulder from a network.

Timeless got a well-deserved reprieve earlier this year - so it is possible. SyFy, if you really do believe "It's a fan thing" - then you'll do something about keeping the crew of the Raza flying.